How Florida airports play a key role in emergency preparedness and response

General Aviation airports play a vital role in serving their local communities through disaster preparedness and response. Hurricanes pose the largest natural disaster threat to Florida communities. Airports are not immune from the devastating impacts a hurricane can cause to infrastructure, including hangars, essential navigation equipment, and other airfield facilities. Based on the important role an airport can play during and after a hurricane, the airport must have a sound emergency plan in place. This emergency plan should consider how the facility is used and will be used during these times.

There are countless historical examples of how General Aviation airports have helped respond to a disaster or crisis. In 2016, the Flagler Executive Airport became a “Point of Distribution” for food and water after Hurricane Matthew, a Category 3 storm, left two-thirds of residents without power.

A year later, during Hurricane Irma, Marion County Airport served as the location for the Duke Energy base camp, which housed 1,700 utility trucks and 3,700 employees. The open nature of airfields and large areas of asphalt and concrete paving make airports ideal staging areas for emergency response operations.

A more recent example of a municipality leveraging the airport as part of their resiliency planning is the Marathon International Airport located in the Florida Keys. In 2019, the County decided to build its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the airport. Being a barrier island poses unique challenges to emergency management operations; housing the EOC at the airport will allow aid to come into the County even if the single highway entering and exiting the keys becomes unusable due to flooding.

Besides natural disasters, airports are also valuable in other areas of emergency response planning. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted airports’ role in the containment of an infectious disease: Millions of people pass through airports each day, making airports a primary pathway for this contagion. During the pandemic, airports are being relied upon heavily to put emergency measures in place to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. The pandemic has accelerated the need for airports to find ways to leverage automation and touchless technology in their day-to-day operations. Providing appropriate response tools will help in containing the spread of the pandemic.

History has shown that airports play an essential role in assisting people in times of disaster by providing an avenue for the delivery and distribution of food, water, and medical supplies. Given the critical role in emergency management, airports should add elements of resiliency planning as part of any master planning process. Spending some time now assessing risks will allow the airport to rebound quickly from unexpected events and continue to meet their users’ demands. Hoyle Tanner works with airports to create or enhance infrastructure projects so that they are sustainable and maintainable for years to come. If you would like to find out more about some steps you can take to make your airport more resilient, contact me.

*featured photo image courtesy of Michael Grawe, Airport Manager, Marion County Airport

About Wilbur Mathurin

Wilbur Mathurin PE, is a Senior Airport Engineer for the Airport Services Group out of our Oviedo, Florida office. As a senior airport engineer, he has over 20 years’ experience in the design and construction of a variety of infrastructure improvement projects at both general aviation and commercial service airports throughout Florida. Wilbur earned a Master of Engineering Management and Master of Civil Engineering from Florida Institute of Technology. Recently, he became an adjunct professor in the Civil Engineering Department at the University of Central Florida. He spends his free time spending time with his wife and four children and playing basketball.